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January 16, 2006

Building on the Dream: Visions of a Neo-Rainbow

Actor Danny Glover and activist Bill Fletcher Jr. have written a call for developing a progressive majoritarian bloc within the context of the existing political system.  The article was published a subscription-only article published in The Nation a year ago and reproduced over at Common Times just recently.  They suggest that this new movement should be based on the principles of the early Jesse Jackson-based Rainbow Coalition of the 1980’s.  They say:

The Rainbow movement and candidacies have much to teach us today. While the Rev. Jesse Jackson was a charismatic leader, the Rainbow Coalition movement and the Jackson presidential campaigns were about far more than Jesse Jackson. The approach that Jackson advanced—building an organization and campaign both inside and outside the Democratic Party—points progressives in the direction we should be moving now.

He spoke to issues of economic injustice without abandoning the question of race, thus avoiding the classic error of white populists who attempt to build unity by addressing economic issues only. Jackson linked these issues. His appearances before white farmers and workers brought forth a response that previously had been unimaginable.

The authors talk about the unraveling of Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition after 1989 and Jackson’s attempt to turn the coalition into his own personal political operation.  They then talk about the failed attempts to build on that coalition, failed because the leaders did not understand the importance of race and the political movements of people of color and the moral authority that arose from challenging collective injustice.  “Moreover, the post-Rainbow initiatives generally did not recognize and embrace a central strategic conception of Jackson’s: that success depends on wielding power both within the Democratic Party and outside it.”

Speaking of the restless turmoil of the current political climate, they say:

Despite the high degree of abstention in the electoral arena, there is a deep belief that the system should work, even if it does not. The immediate challenge is to develop a progressive majoritarian bloc within the context of the existing political system.

Taking up this strategic challenge means coming face to face with the problem of the Democratic Party. As much as many progressives may wish for the replacement of the party by a left/ progressive party of struggle, this is unlikely to happen in the near term. Independent political parties have simply failed to ignite widespread populist electoral activity. At the same time, no one should expect that the Democratic Party will itself become the party of the dispossessed.

Instead, activists should look upon the Democratic Party as itself a field of struggle. Such a view flows from a realization of the undemocratic nature of the US electoral system and the dilemmas that creates. In this context, the fight must take place both within and without the Democratic Party. To carry out such a struggle necessitates organization, vision and strategy. It also needs the right core in order to anchor it in reality and build the united front that such an effort or insurgency must represent. We believe these to be the key parameters for an effective neo-Rainbow electoral strategy.

It should be obvious, though it is often not, that discussions about a neo-Rainbow electoral strategy are grounded in a desire to win political power. Many of us on the left and progressive side of the aisle are so accustomed to losing and existing under siege that the prospect of winning is not only beyond our belief system but often scary. Winning necessitates political alignments, compromises and often tactics that are far from pure.

The authors suggest that the core of the Rainbow Coalition was linking racial justice with broader social and economic-justice issues.  The core must represent actual constituencies.  Like the Rainbow Coalition of the 80’s, it must be a united front.  Of that coalition, they say, “In addition, largely through the activities of the left, additional constituencies were tapped, constituencies with which Jackson had little history. Asians and Latinos, particularly, became integral to the campaigns and movement.”

They go on to speak about the importance of pro-equality populism.  “A movement that links the fights for racial, gender and economic justice will resonate particularly, though not exclusively, with communities of color.” 

They add the obvious on foreign policy: "the need to articulate a compelling alternative vision of international affairs and foreign policy. This democratic foreign policy could be premised on multilateralism, mutual respect among nations, nonmilitary methods of problem solving, the self-determination of nations and opposition to US interventionism."
The summary:

The neo-Rainbow project cannot be limited to a formal coalition that comes together around a specific candidate or set of candidates. Although there will need to be targeted geographic areas in which it will first take root, this must be a national project that articulates a compelling social vision aimed at breaking the isolation of left/progressive activists and movements, focusing them on strategies for achieving political power. At the same time, this project must be based in communities, through ward and precinct organization, bringing together committed activist leaders (leaders with a small “l”) around the mission and vision of the project. Building the neo-Rainbow project, then, would entail analyzing the power structures in various communities, understanding the real issues of the people, linking with community- and workplace-based organizations, identifying potential candidates for office and the issues around which they should organize their campaigns, and, ultimately, running for office.

I first received the link to this article from Luis Moscoso, Secretary of the State Democratic Party and organizer of the Democratic Party Unity Coalition.  He is clearly taking a neo-Rainbow project seriously and has begun acting on that.  It’s a great place to begin. 

Posted by Lynn Allen on January 16, 2006 at 11:36 AM in Policy | Permalink


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